A remote technology company which has trebled in size in the past two years has raised a further £480,000 to help it expand into new markets.

Plexus Innovation, which is based in Durham, has secured £300,000 investment from the North East Venture Fund (NEVF), supported by the European Regional Development Fund and managed by Mercia; and £180,000 from the Finance Durham Fund, managed by Maven Capital Partners, established by Durham County Council and overseen by Business Durham.

Plexus Innovation’s GUARDIAN® technology remotely monitors and measures temperature, CO2, humidity and water systems, enabling insight-driven decisions, reduction of energy use and provision of real-time data for use in compliance reporting. The system also provides automated alerts to highlight potential health risks or failing assets that otherwise may be overlooked.

GUARDIAN® is being used by clients in sectors such as social housing, education, health and care, with clients including believe housing, North Star Housing Group and Careline Lifestyles.  The funding will enable co-founders Ian Murray and Steve Toddto accelerate product development and boost market penetration in other sectors including manufacturing, leisure and hospitality.

The latest investment follows a £400,000 funding round in 2020. Since then the company has tripled to employ an eight-strong team and is planning to create 2 new jobs in the coming months.

Alex Simpson, investment manager at Mercia, said: “Plexus Innovation is on a mission to replace manual measurements and make remote monitoring the norm. The initial funding round enabled Steve and Ian to build their team and establish their presence within the social housing and care sectors. The latest investment will enable them to roll it out to a much wider range of clients.”

Michael Dickens, Investment Manager at Maven, said: “Plexus Innovation has developed an innovative proprietary product that addresses legislative issues, pushing compliance and asset management into the 21st Century. The remote technology is attracting high profile clients focused on Net Zero, business improvement and delivering better service to tenants, residents, patients, pupils or their own customers.  This means the market opportunity is significant.”

Ian Murray, founder of Plexus Innovation, said: “We are successfully rolling out our innovative GUARDIAN® technology across a range of sectors and our current clients have uninterrupted compliance management delivered remotely. Providing a digital alternative to manual checks, GUARDIAN® is proven to be cost effective, reliable and accurate. It provides real-time data with a full audit trail, reduces risk and detects a range of key issues not possible via manual measurement.

“This investment means we can now roll out GUARDIAN® even further, helping more finance, environment, compliance, healthcare, facilities managers and maintenance teams to do their job better. We will also enable an instant and significant improvement for those on the road to Net Zero.”

Cllr James Rowlandson, cabinet member for resources, investment and assets at Durham County Council, said: “We are delighted to be supporting this innovative company as they continue to grow in Tanfield Lea Business Centre.  Through the support from Finance Durham, we can ensure enterprising businesses with dynamic ideas, like Plexus Innovation, have the right means to grow in County Durham.  Since we declared a climate emergency, we have been actively seeking practical support for our business community to enable them to reduce their carbon footprint, its fantastic to hear that Plexus are able to help companies meet their low carbon ambitions.”

 

A  Newcastle cybersecurity business with an automated software that helps SMEs detect vulnerabilities in their IT system has raised £350,000 from the North East Venture Fund (NEVF), supported by the European Regional Development Fund and managed by Mercia.

Melius Cyber’s platform monitors an organisation’s IT network around the clock, testing security and protecting it from the latest threats. CyberSafe automates the process of vulnerability scanning and penetration testing, in which cyber experts simulate attacks to detect weaknesses in the system.

The platform was developed specifically for SMEs and aligns to Cyber Essentials, the government-backed accreditation scheme that shows businesses take cybersecurity seriously. It helps businesses to gain accreditation by showing they have monitoring in place and can meet the criteria.

The funding will enable Melius Cyber to boost its sales and marketing to expand its client base and to further develop the platform, including adapting it to meet the needs of financial services and other FCA-regulated firms. The company, which currently employs eight staff, is planning to create five new jobs in the next six months.

Melius Cyber was founded in 2019 by Dave McPherson, a former IT specialist with the Bank of England. The company is a spin-off from Melius Group, the Newcastle-based IT services business he founded seven years earlier.

Richard Brown, CEO of Melius, said: “Cybersecurity is a growing problem for businesses, particularly with the rise in home working, and it is no longer enough to rely on off-the-shelf solutions such as spam filters and firewalls. Big companies regularly stress test their network, but the cost is prohibitive for smaller firms.

“CyberSafe overcomes this problem by providing a 24/7, year-round service for the price of a one-off penetration test. The funding will enable us to roll out the system and help safeguard many more businesses.”

Ian Wilson, Fund Principal at Mercia, said: “CyberSafe fills a gap in the market for a product that provides security testing at a price that SMEs can afford. It not only helps them prevent attacks, but also to comply with recognised standards and provide reassurance for customers and suppliers. The investment will help Richard and the team to target the growing cybersecurity market.”

 

An energy broker that helps businesses to reduce bills has received a further £500,000 in funding from the North East Venture Fund (NEVF), supported by the European Regional Development Fundand managed by Mercia. Sunderland-based Troo will use the investment to create around 50 new jobs over the next six months.

Troo, which currently employs over 50 staff, has doubled its turnover each year for the past two years and is on course to do so again in the coming year.

The latest funding round brings the total raised to date by Troo to £1.5m. As part of the investment, Peter McLeod has joined the board from Total Energies in the new Sales Director role. McLeod brings eight years of experience of business development and marketing in the energy supply sector and will support Troo to enrich its sales pipeline.

Troo was launched in 2018 by Andrew and Rachel Richardson with the aim of disrupting the business energy broker industry. The company differentiates itself in the market by its unique approach. It offers complete visibility on commission costs, and also provides customers with energy monitoring and tailored advice on how to save energy. Troo has a customer retention rate of 90% from contract to contract.

Alex Simpson, Investment Manager at Mercia said: “Troo provides its customers with honesty and transparency to give them a more complete view of their contracts, which is very empowering to the end-user. We are delighted to be supporting Andrew, Peter and the team with a follow-on investment as they continue to scale the business.”

Andrew Richardson, founder of Troo, said: “This latest funding round will enable us to continue on our high growth trajectory, strengthening our senior team and doubling headcount, whilst continuing to deliver value for our customers. Our growth is down to our unique offer. Unlike many energy brokers, we’re transparent about costs, we’re financially stable and, most importantly, our core focus is on supporting customers through turbulent times and beyond. Energy is a big overhead for many organisations and our job is to help them save time, money and hassle with fair pricing, and help and support at every step. We build trust with customers, and our approach is refreshing for many businesses and is the foundation of our continued success.”

Shine Interview, a video-based recruitment and HR Tech platform, has received a £1.3m funding package to enable it to embark on a programme of growth and relocate to County Durham, creating around 20 new jobs in the area in the next 18 months.

The funding has come from the North East Venture Fund (NEVF), supported by the European Regional Development Fund and managed by Mercia; Mercia’s EIS Funds; and the Finance Durham Fund, managed by Maven Capital Partners, established by Durham County Council and overseen by Business Durham.

Shine’s platform facilitates a remote end-to-end recruitment process through live and pre-recorded video interviewing, alongside a suite of recruitment tools including scheduling, diary management, video CVs and video-based engagement tools.

The business, which is currently based in Sunderland, aims to make the recruitment process easier whilst improving the candidate and client journey, and its platform been proven to cut the time and cost of hiring by up to 70%. Shine already supports an impressive client list including Royal Navy, RAF, Reed Specialist Recruitment, Capita Resourcing, University of London, Atom Bank and the NHS, and has users in 85 countries.

With the emergency of new hybrid and remote working patterns triggered by the pandemic, it is estimated that up to 40% of the UK’s working population will work this way over the long term, creating a requirement for new tools to facilitate virtual recruitment processes. Rapid increases in user adoption of video technologies, driven not only by the pandemic but also by the growth of personal video streaming within social media and office environments, mean that video interviews are now widely accepted by candidates.

The talent management and recruitment software market is well established within the UK, with an estimated market size of £11bn. Within this, one of the fastest growing markets is the talent assessment and hiring software market, with estimates showing a pathway to a £5bn market size over the next three years.

Ian Wilson, Fund Principal at Mercia said: “We’re delighted to further support Shine after making our first investment in 2018 and we are pleased to bring the Finance Durham Fund into the syndicate. It’s an exciting time for the business as clients look to integrate technology solutions into their hiring plans. We believe the company is well placed to build upon its network of enterprise partners with future growth.”

David Nixon, Senior Investment Manager at Maven, said: “Shine has carved out a solid niche in the marketplace with a well-defined position. The business has enjoyed strong growth and is well placed to scale its technology and grow its team following its relocation to County Durham. David and the team have built an impressive business and it’s great to work with the North East Fund to provide a finance package that supports the company’s ambitious expansion plans.”

David Copple, Founder of Shine, said: “The recruitment landscape has changed over the last two years with the war for talent intensifying and hybrid and remote working becoming the norm. As a result, demand for our video-based tools has soared and this investment will allow us to accelerate our growth plans significantly whilst bringing further innovations to our already world-class platform. I’m hugely excited by this next stage of our journey.”

Cllr James Rowlandson, Portfolio holder for resources, investment and assets at Durham County Council, said: “We are delighted to have been able to invest in Shine through Finance Durham, and also to assist the company to move to County Durham.  It’s fantastic to support this innovative business as it grows into this expanding area of recruitment.  We encourage more businesses to follow suit and access the funding opportunities we have available through our Business Durham team to create more and better jobs and contribute towards a strong competitive economy for the future.”

The transaction comprises a £500,000 investment from the North East Venture Fund (NEVF), supported by the European Regional Development Fund and managed by Mercia; £300,000 from Mercia’s EIS Funds; and a £500,000 investment from the Finance Durham Fund, managed by Maven Capital Partners, established by Durham County Council and overseen by Business Durham.

An investment programme that has raised more than £220m for North East SMEs, creating over 1500 jobs, is looking for more businesses to apply for investment.

In its first four years of operations, the North East Fund has helped 350 businesses to raise more than £200m of funding. The £80m provided by the North East Fund helped those companies to secure a further £140m from other investors and funders.

The North East Fund plans to invest a further £40m in at least 150 more companies over the next two years and is calling for businesses to get in touch to discuss their working capital requirements and growth plans.

External Engagement Officer for the North East Fund James Holloway said: “Many business owners have fantastic ideas that require funding but might not know what is available, or how to present those ideas in a structured plan. We work with businesses to better understand the various options open to them. We can explain how debt or equity funding from the North East Fund might work for them, as well as how to pull in funding and support from other sources. We help them build a full package of support and provide guidance on completing their funding applications – all on a free, confidential and no obligation basis.”

Established with funding from the European Regional Development Fund, the North East Fund, a suite of five North East venture capital and loan funds, provides loans or equity investment from £10,000 to more than £1m. It is available to businesses of most sizes and sectors which are based in Northumberland, Tyne & Wear or County Durham.

Sweet Solstice in Alnwick is just one of the 350 businesses that have benefited from investment via the North East Fund. Owner Autumn Rabbitts secured a £24,500 North East Small Loan Fund investment through NEL Fund Managers to expand her home-based bespoke cake-making business, Plumb and Rabbitts Cake Studio, to establish Sweet Solstice, a magical witch-themed town-centre bakery.

She said: “This investment has made it possible for me to take my business in a new direction much faster than I could have done it alone. From the moment that I was referred to NEL Fund Managers things moved really quickly. I already had my business plan in place and so it was only a matter of weeks before I had the funding and Sweet Solstice was born. I already have one member of staff, with another one starting in May. I would advise any North East small business owner with dreams of expansion to look into the North East Fund.”

Recent larger deals have included a £1.5M investment in the creation of more digital jobs in the North East by funding growth for AI-powered retail technology platform RevLifter. The North East Development Capital Fund investment is helping the London-based technology company to recruit and grow its business from a new office in the Catalyst building in Newcastle, which is also home to the National Innovation Centre for Data. Recent six-figure investments are also helping to fund growth plans at Gateshead-based, personalised digital education provider Sub-10 and Sunderland’s quality assurance SAAS platform company, Mesma.

Andrew Gibson, External Engagement Officer for the North East Fund, said:
“External investment can help to strengthen a business. Our fund managers provide businesses with loans or equity funding to support working capital requirements and business growth plans. They can also make introductions to industry contacts and to other national and international investors. These have almost tripled the value of our own investments, making a £220m impact on the region in the past four years. We’d like to talk to more North East businesses to help them to tap into available funding.”

A Durham company which has developed sensor technology that can detect alcohol and drugs in a person’s blood by scanning their skin has raised a £600,000 investment to enable it to commercialise its product.

The funding round for Applied Monitoring was co-led by the North East Venture Fund (NEVF), supported by the European Regional Development Fund and managed by Mercia, and the Finance Durham Fund, managed by Maven Capital Partners, established by Durham County Council and overseen by Business Durham.

The deal also includes a £100,000 investment from the Centre of Processing Innovation to support further research and development of its technology.

Applied Monitoring’s innovative sensor system identifies the presence and concentration of alcohol, cocaine and cannabis in a person’s bloodstream by scanning their skin. The device generates electromagnetic waves at a range of different frequencies that pass through the skin and interact with chemicals in the blood that are reflected back, analysed and recorded.

The technology is non-invasive, and quicker and cheaper than onsite workplace tests currently in use.  The business is in the process of developing desk-based arm scanning equipment, using readily available electronic components similar to those used in mobile phones.

As part of the investment, Mercia made two introductions from its non-executive director network to support the company’s growth. Carl Barratt, former CEO of Monica Healthcare, a wearable medical device diagnostics business, and Neil Hayward, a human resource development professional with around 30 years’ experience in businesses including the Post Office and HS2, both have a strong track record of business transformation.

Currently on-site drug testing requires bodily fluid samples to be collected and either sent to a lab for subsequent testing or the use of dipstick test strips that confirm if drugs are present but not the amount. Applied Monitoring’s sensor technology software can analyse chemicals in the blood in seconds, to confirm if a specific chemical is present and if so, at what levels.

The global alcohol and drug testing market is projected to be $10.0bn by 2025, the UK alcohol and drug testing market alone was estimated to be worth £250m in 2020 and the global on-site testing market is expected to grow from $485m in 2020 to $950m in 2025.

Thea Tebble, Investment Associate at Mercia, said: “Mercia are delighted to support Applied Monitoring in the continued development of their market disrupting technology, which will significantly increase the speed and ease of alcohol and drugs of abuse testing. We look forward to collaborating with Jon and Rob on the exciting growth journey that lies ahead.”

Jon Dixon, CEO of Applied Monitoring, said: “We are confident that Applied Monitoring has truly innovative and transformational technology offering the business strong competitive advantage versus the current market offerings. As a validation of our technology and business plan it is wonderful to have Maven and Mercia on-board and it has been a pleasure working with Michael Dickens and Thea Tebble of Mercia over the past few months. The financial support provided by Maven and Mercia, alongside the guidance of our highly experienced advisory Executive team of Dr Carl Barratt and Neil Hayward, ensures the business is best placed for an exciting future.”

Michael Dickens, Investment Manager at Maven, said: “Applied Monitoring has developed remarkable technology to enable qualitative and quantitative onsite workplace test results in seconds. Jon and his team all have significant experience developing and launching new software products and operating large sales teams as well as diagnostic sector knowledge. We’re delighted the Fund can support the business as it embarks on its exciting next phase of development.”

Cllr James Rowlandson, portfolio holder for resources, investment and assets at Durham County Council, said: “Applied Monitoring are an excellent example of the innovative companies at NETPark, it’s fantastic to be able to provide finance through Finance Durham to enable the company to solve real world problems with novel applications of technology. Last year we announced plans to expand NETPark, we will be investing circa £50m to finance the expansion providing new laboratory, office, production and storage space to help companies, like Applied Monitoring, grow at NETPark, creating more and better jobs in County Durham.”

External Engagement Officer for the North East Fund, Andrew Gibson, said: “The North East Fund is proud to be involved with this innovation to streamline the process of onsite drug and alcohol testing. Applied Monitoring has developed an impressive new product and we look forward to the creation of more local jobs through its commercialisation, supported by investment via our North East Venture Fund. We’d like to talk to more North East businesses who would like to tap into available funding suitable for their growth needs.”

ART Health Solutions uses data to optimise employee health and performance, and in turn creating more resilient, high performing employees through evidence based solutions.

Noveltea‘s mission is to blend the finest teas and premium spirits to create a unique gastronomic experience that brings together the worlds of tea and alcohol in the spirit of adventure.

Melius Cyber Consultancy is a cybersecurity business aimed towards the SME market, offering a range of services from penetration testing to full audit and remediation. The business has developed its own software that utilises AI to continuously monitor IT estates remotely.

ART Health Solutions uses data to optimise employee health and performance, creating more resilient, high performing employees through evidence-based solutions.